Candidates vying to become New Westminster’s next MLA have varying views on how to handle the poisoned drug supply crisis in British Columbia.
On Oct. 20, the BC Coroners Service released statistics about illicitdrug toxicity deaths to the end of September 2020. The preliminary findings indicate there were 127 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in September 2020, which represents a 112% increase over the 60 deaths in September 2019 and a 15% decrease from the 150 deaths in August 2020.
During an Oct. 15 meet and greet hosted by New Roots, the five candidates seeking election in the New Westminster riding fielded questions on a variety of topics, including whether they would support a policy of providing a safe supply of opiates to replace a toxic drug supply that has resulted in overdose deaths of thousands of British Columbians.
“Yes we do agree with the safe supply,” said NDP candidate Jennifer Whiteside. “BC NDP was the first government, the only government in Canada, to create a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. We work very hard on the opioid crisis in the last three years. We are working to fast-track the decriminalization, working in connection with the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs.”
Whiteside said the NDP is committed to doing the work required to tackle the crisis, in conjunction with the community. While progress was being made prior to COVID, she said there’s no question there’s much more work to be done.
Cyrus Sy, the BC Greens candidate, said the overdose crisis is really a toxic drug supply crisis. He said the province has to look to public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and public health officials for recommendations on how to best deal with the crisis.
“One of the recommendations they had was we really need to support providing a clean supply of pharmaceutical-grade alternatives to combat the toxic drug supply. The BC Greens would be absolutely supportive of that because that’s based on the evidence. That’s a way we are going to be able to save lives now and in the short-term,” he said. “Long-term, there are some other things that we also need to do to start to address some of the root causes of the toxic drug supply, the overdose crisis that we are facing today.”
Liberal candidate Lorraine Brett said her son, who is addicted to heroin and is homeless, has overdosed about 12 times in the last 10 months. She said he’s been given a naloxone injection and taken to hospital, but is soon “dumped back onto the streets” instead of being sent to detox.
“He’s been dead 12 times and come back from the dead,” she said. “This is a nightmare. No parent should have to face this – ever. So, whatever avenues there are accessible to addicts to find safety from poisonous drugs supplies, I would support.”
Brett said the NDP government has “grossly underfunded” and provided an inadequate response to the overdose crisis.
The Conservative and Libertarian candidates aren’t as keen on providing a safe supply of opiates.
“I am not convinced that just simply giving drugs to people is the best long-term solution. I’d be open to exploring it but at this point, I am not convinced that is the best way to go,” said Conservative candidate Benny Ogden. “I think a much more holistic approach may be better – just focusing on the root causes of how are people getting into that situation. Of course, we should definitely be looking at tightening border security because those tainted drugs are coming from somewhere and we need to identify where those are coming from.”
BC Libertarian candidate Don Wilson said he doesn’t agree that providing a safe drug supply is the way to address the issue. He’d prefer that community organizations provide drug testing for people in the Downtown Eastside, Surrey and Chilliwack so they can find out if there is fentanyl in their drugs.
“I understand its motivations, but I also do not get behind using my resources towards giving people in that situation the drugs that they want,” he said of a safe supply. “It’s an end point in the road for people in that situation.”
If you missed the online meet-and-greet and want to hear how New Westminster candidates responded to a variety of questions at the Oct. 15 meeting on Zoom, go to the @NewRoots8 page on Facebook and follow the link to the video on YouTube. To hear what the four Richmond-Queensborough candidates had to say during an all-candidates meeting with the Richmond News (the Record’s sister publication) go to www.newwestrecord.com and search for Richmond Newsall-candidates debate.